Vauxhall, Lambeth/Wandsworth

A recently trans­formed Thames-side locality and transport interchange in south-west Lambeth, formerly the site of London’s most fashionable pleasure gardens

Vauxhall - St George Wharf - 664

The Gas­con mer­ce­nary Falkes de Bréauté gained pos­ses­sion of the manor in 1233 through his mar­riage to wealthy wid­ow Mar­garet de Red­vers and built Falkes’ Hall, lat­er called Fox Hall.

Jane Vaux, pos­si­bly a descen­dant of Falkes de Bréauté, owned a house here in 1615 with eleven acres of grounds called the Spring Gar­dens, which were opened as a plea­sure park in 1660. Samuel Pepys record­ed lat­er in the decade that he went “by water to Fox-hall, and there walked in Spring Gar­den.”

The park reopened in 1732 with great­ly enhanced attrac­tions – and the con­struc­tion of West­min­ster Bridge in 1750 improved its acces­si­bil­i­ty. The gar­dens pro­vid­ed refresh­ments, con­certs, fire­works, dis­plays of pic­tures and stat­u­ary and the like, and at night were lit by over 1,000 lamps. Thomas Row­land­son’s water­colour below (c.1784) shows a crowd of evening con­cert­go­ers, prob­a­bly not long after the gar­dens reopened.

Hidden London: Thomas Rowlandson, Old Vauxhall Gardens

Such was the pres­tige of Vaux­hall Gar­dens, as they were for­mal­ly called from 1785, that sim­i­lar parks were laid out in sev­er­al cities, includ­ing the Tivoli Gar­dens in Copen­hagen. In Rus­sia the grand sta­tion pavil­ion (where con­certs were per­formed) at the Pavlovsk plea­sure gar­dens was named Vokzal, because of Vauxhall’s syn­ony­mous asso­ci­a­tion with musi­cal enter­tain­ments. Pavlovsk was the des­ti­na­tion of the first Russ­ian rail­way line, which arrived there from St Peters­burg in 1837, and the word vokzal is still an old-fash­ioned word for ‘sta­tion’ in Russ­ian.

Vaux­hall Gar­dens closed in 1859 after two decades of finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties but a small rem­nant, Spring Gar­dens, sur­vives oppo­site the north­ern end of South Lam­beth Road. A lit­tle to the south, Vaux­hall Park opened in 1890. Just across Tyers Street from Spring Gar­dens, Vaux­hall City Farm has been “keep­ing the lamb in Lam­beth” since 1976.

Indus­try and com­merce flour­ished along Vauxhall’s river­side for more than three cen­turies, and until very recent­ly con­tin­ued to do so at Nine Elms.

The Vaux­hall Iron­works Com­pa­ny built its first car in 1903, badged with Falkes de Bréauté’s heraldic grif­fin; a plaque at Sainsbury’s petrol sta­tion on Wandsworth Road marks the site of the fac­to­ry. The com­pa­ny relo­cat­ed to Luton in 1905 and became Vaux­hall Motors two years lat­er.

The present Vaux­hall Bridge opened in May 1906, replac­ing the 19th-cen­tu­ry Regent Bridge.

Much of Vaux­hall was rebuilt with blocks of low-rise flats in the 1930s and parts had become very run-down by the ear­ly 1990s, since when the area has been trans­formed in a vari­ety of ways. The Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice (MI6) moved to a pur­pose-built head­quar­ters at Vaux­hall Cross in 1993 and oth­er parts of the river­side have filled with lux­u­ry apart­ment blocks, notably at St George Wharf – as seen in the pho­to­graph at the top – and more recent­ly the Cor­niche, near the north­ern edge of the map below. Inland, sur­viv­ing Geor­gian and Vic­to­ri­an ter­raced hous­es have been gen­tri­fied, while huge sums have been spent on the regen­er­a­tion of coun­cil hous­ing.

Vauxhall’s Luso­phone com­mu­ni­ty has opened cafés and restau­rants, while a ‘vil­lage’ of gay bars and night­clubs has also evolved.

Trans­port for Lon­don com­plet­ed London’s most dis­tinc­tive bus sta­tion at Vaux­hall Cross in 2004, with ‘ski-ramp’ solar pan­els that pow­er most of the station’s light­ing. Sad­ly, there’s now a pro­pos­al to knock it down and replace it with a small­er bus sta­tion and a pair of extreme­ly tall tow­ers with an 11-storey con­nect­ing podi­um, shown in the cen­tre of the CGI below. Lam­beth coun­cil’s plan­ning com­mit­tee approved the Vaux­hall Cross Island scheme, by Zaha Hadid Archi­tects, in Decem­ber 2018.

Hidden London: Vauxhall Cross Island

The pleasure gardens crop up frequently in English literature down the centuries – for example, in Vanbrugh’s play The Provok’d Wife (1697), Dickens’s Sketches by Boz (1836–7) and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847–8), although that novel’s Captain Dobbin finds “the Vauxhall amusements not particularly lively.” Thomas Hood’s At Shining Vauxhall is one of several poems inspired by the gardens.

Singer/songwriter Morrissey lived in the area for a while and released the album Vauxhall and I in 1994.

Postal districts: SW8 and SE11
Station: South West Trains, Victoria line (zones 1 and 2)
Website: Vauxhall Society
Further reading: David E. Coke, Vauxhall Gardens: A History, Yale University Press, 2011
* The picture of the Vauxhall riverfront at the top of this page is adapted is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Alain Rouiller, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.